SPS Superintendent Rolfe Timmerman Says District Needs To Attract New Families, Children
Saugatuck Public Schools Superintendent Rolfe Timmerman says he keeps hearing the same thing from many young families that want to enroll their kids in his district:
“We really want to come to your school, but we really can’t afford a house (in this area).”
Timmerman shared this information with the Saugatuck City Council at its meeting last Monday.
“This is not only a great place to visit, vacation, eat and shop, it is a fantastic place to raise a family because of the quality schools that we provide,” said Timmerman, stressing the message he wanted to leave with city leaders and the attending public.
The district boasts a number of recent achievements.
Saugatuck High School was named one of the top 500 high schools in United States by Newsweek and, at the 93rd percentile, it is the highest ranked high school in the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District. Similarly, Douglas Elementary School and Saugatuck Middle School are at the 91st percentile and 84th percentile, respectively.
In his presentation, Timmerman provided numbers demonstrating a trend wherein the number of students that are residents of the district continue to shrink while a “saturation” of non-resident students—those students resulting from the school of choice option—persist.
This is a result of the School of Choice policies adopted by the State of Michigan in 1997, allowing students to determine which school within the resident district they will enroll.
To date, 33% of district enrollment is made up of kids from school of choice, a figure that has been growing since the year 2000 when it was only seven percent.
SPS’ 2014 district enrollment includes 567 resident students and 274 non-resident students for a total of 841 student.
The numbers also show that overall enrollment, relatively speaking, is falling.
In 2006 there was a total student count of 872 and that has been steadily dropping since then. Not that the drop warrants panic, but it does merit consideration by government officials, community leaders and other stakeholders, explained Timmerman.
“The quality of programs we have here is based on how many students we have,” said Timmerman.
But there is an obstacle.
“We need to provide affordable housing,” he said.
To highlight this issue, he also showed numbers comparing the closed housing transactions of the region’s school districts.
Compared to five other districts—Fennville, Hamilton, Holland, Zeeland and East Grand Rapids—Saugatuck had the highest average listing price for a house at $294,843.
In comparison, Holland’s average listing price is $133,524 and Zeeland’s is $162,227. The closest listing price came from East Grand Rapids at $286,000.
At such prices locally, a lot of young families just starting to raise kids will not be able to spare the price for a home in this area, he said.
“We really need to rebrand what this area is about. It’s not just a great resort town, but it’s a great place to raise a family,” said Timmerman. “That is the piece that I think is missing and I want to make sure everyone is aware that the decisions being made by the local governments can and do have an impact on the school district.”
Timmerman has spoken to the city councils of Douglas and Saugatuck and more recently attended the City of Douglas Community Open House (Douglas, Our Vision Group.
In April, Timmerman says he hopes to meet with the Saugatuck-Douglas Area Business Association as well as speak to a group of realtors.